Editors’ rates under the spotlight


In March, the South African Guild of Editors (SAGE) released their new rate card,
which, for the first time in three years, reflects a hike in editors’ fees. For editors
and other post-production professionals, the increase is long overdue. Some in the
industry, however, may question how useful and realistic the rate card is in an
industry mostly based on project-to-project, budget-dependent negotiation.
Marina du Toit, current SAGE chair, explains how the hike was calculated.

“Until a couple of years ago, SAGE rates increased below the consumer price index
(CPI). This unfortunately started to make a career in post-production unsustainable.
Bear in mind that editors have to keep up with the newest software and trends at
their own expense, and usually work as freelancers. This year we added the
average CPI for 2014, at 6.1%. On top of inflation we considered a 15-year career
growth, which works out to an average additional increase of 3.6% per year.’

She also makes it clear that these rates are not meant to be prescriptive. “It
certainly depends on how big a budget is and therefore an editor’s personal rate is
not cast in stone. It is up to the editors themselves to decide when they will lower
their rates. Editors typically drop their rate about 10 to 20% for long-term
employment, to gain experience or if they have a good working relationship with

Freelance editor and SAGE member Melissa Parry has worked in the industry for 10
years. She says: “In my experience it is possible to use the SAGE rate card
successfully. However I find that I have to be flexible about my rate because of the
range of budgets in which I work – SABC productions and commercials.
“Unfortunately a local production is only able to offer me a rate within the top end
of the mid-level tier on the rate card… but without the scope the rate card offers I
wouldn’t have the leverage to negotiate a reasonable fee.’

Mid-level editor Edgar Sibaya says that his experience is somewhat different. “A
few years back when I was starting out, I naively used the rate card to state my
personal rate – I did not get the job. The first time I quoted a rate that was on the
rate card and got the job was in 2013 on a TV documentary. Most of the time I am
given a rate, without much room to negotiate.’

A problem that continually comes up in conversations with editors is the perception
that their market value compares unfavourably with that of the camera department.
“Editors in South Africa are often paid far less than the director of photography
(DOP) on a project,’ says Parry.

“Globally an editor and DOP are recognised as creatively and technically equal and
are therefore remunerated equally. [In South Africa] the role of the editor is no
longer recognised or valued in the same way. As much as software and equipment
has become more accessible it should not undermine the contribution and
collaborative role that an editor brings to the filmmaking process.’

Editor Megan Gill adds: “Sometimes producers use high expenditure during
production as an excuse to spend less on post-production. SAGE’s policy is that the
post-production rates should match those of the camera department because both
departments contribute similar technical and creative skill. Also, the attitude of “fix
it in post’ is still going strong but people are not always willing to pay for the
necessary expertise.’

From producers’ point of view, they are working with scarce resources, taking all
the risk, and providing employment. Budgets are tight and, in general, hardly
anybody on a film project – including in the production department – is getting
international standard pay rates for their work. Everyone does the best they can
with what they have.

While it may appear that there is conflict here, it actually seems that in practice,
the market does settle around the recommended rates – although the higher ranges
are quite rare. As du Toit says, editors are getting the rates recommended by
SAGE, although the average rates agreed upon tend towards the lower and mid

To give an example, one producer, running a small production company that has an
ongoing, low-budget SABC show as its anchor product, says that she employs a
junior offline editor on the show and pays a fee of around R3 000 per episode (in
line with her SABC-approved budget, which amounts to R3 130 per minute).

Each episode is scheduled for two days in edit – meaning that the editor gets about
R1 500 per day for his or her work – roughly in line with SAGE’s recommendation.

In the absence of full unionisation (a topic that opens an entirely new can of worms)
ad hoc negotiation seems the best way to reach equitable agreements but
instruments such as the SAGE rate card can provide useful guidelines for those

Screen Africa hopes that this article will spark discussion and we are more than
happy to facilitate the ensuing dialogue.

We would welcome all comments on the topic on our Facebook page
(www.facebook.com/screenafrica) and Twitter account (@ScreenAfrica).

Let us know your thoughts by using the hashtag: #SAGErates.


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